Tales From the Table: MG’s 600K Volunteer Story

MG turns into super-volunteer on the Middletown 600K and offers a new perspective on the craziness and triumph that is randonneuring.
Mary At the Middletown 600K Check-InMary At the Check-In Table

600K Middletown, Virginia, June 9-10, 2007
By Mary Gersema

“Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
to be stuck inside this 600K
with the Middletown blues again.”
(With apologies to Bob Dylan)

Feeling estranged from the randonneuring community, I decided to help out with the DC Randonneurs 600K. I drove out to Middletown, Va., with tandem partner Ed Felker, who was enjoying the 2007 brevet series on his new bike, a 650B Rivendell Bleriot, which he had decided was an essential addition to the Felker bicycle stable.

I decided that Ed needs a cycling jersey that says “Ask me about 650B.” He is quite passionate about his new brevet companion. A conversation about the magic of 650B tires will probably get you through 50 miles of your brevet. Oh, and when you ask him about 650B, don’t forget to ask a follow up question about Grand Bois tires. Then you are good to go for the first century at least!

I was so excited to see everyone on Friday. Clint Provenza, Lynn Ho, Steve Ashurst, Carol Bell, Chris Mento, and Liz Crotty were all there at the Super 8 when we arrived. It felt great to reconnect with people. Also, I remembered one of the reasons why I liked randonneuring- the glamour. Not every day do I get the opportunity to hang out with my cycling friends at the Middletown Super 8 parking lot.

Saturday, the alarm sounded at 4 a.m. Ed trotted off to assemble his 600K essentials, and I moseyed out to the lobby. Bob Sheldon and Liz were signing in the riders, and I joined them a few minutes later. Liz finally turned to Bob and said, “You know, Bob unlike you, Mary and I are NOT riding this ride. So feel free to leave the rest of the check-in to us, ok?” Bob left a couple of minutes later to join his lovely Spectrum for the ride.

I commented to Liz how interesting it was to watch everyone in the morning. Jitteriness was all around. Riders touched and retouched their jersey pockets. They packed and repacked their seat packs and handlebar bags, and dug around in their packed and repacked drop bags. I could see riders conducting mental inventories of what they might need for the ride and wondering where they had they placed it.

Just before 5 a.m., the riders assembled in front of the hotel. Everyone was dressed in their crossing guard uniforms. The sound of cleats and subdued chatter filled the air. The glow of red taillights was all around, and the air felt electric. Matt gave a morning speech, which of course, I am sure was important but I did not hear, and suddenly the riders were off to win the brevet. It was so exciting!!!

Liz and I readied to return to our late check-in post, when a rider rolled up. He hurriedly checked in, showed us all his batteries and lights, checked and rechecked his trunk bag, found and lost his car keys a few times, and rode off hastily.

A few minutes later, a rider on a Serotta rolled over to us. What’s up, Bike Rider? It was Branson Kimball, who had ridden the North Carolina 600K two weeks ago, and was here to ride with his friend. Branson said they needed the practice on the hills. His riding companion, Paul Pavlides, had ridden the North Carolina 600K just the week before, and had driven through the night to get to the ride start. Ah, the randonneurs have such dedication to their passion!

Liz and I chatted with Chuck and Sally, two volunteers who had come up with Greg Conderacci and had offered to do the bag drop. Glenn Kuhn’s wife, Lisa, had also shown up for the brevet, but she was not riding because she and Glenn are expecting their first baby!!! We had fun talking about the riders and other miscellaneous things.

I readied for my own little ride. If the randonneurs could ride 230 miles on this day, then I could make time for a 50-mile adventure. I hopped on my Bike Friday and cruised around the Shenandoah Valley. By this time, the day was really warming up, and I wondered how the riders were doing. I bet they are getting a bit toasty, I thought, as I slurped on my water.

I rode up Fetzer’s Gap and pondered the challenging terrain of the 600K brevet. As I climbed I began to feel really hot. Then I started feeling drowsy. I was not able to fully envision the riders’ day as I rode. My sweat was too distracting. I determined I would have better luck if I took a nap and dreamt a little about the brevet. I topped Fetzer’s Gap, descended to Back Road, and jaunted on back to Matt and Liz’s house for a 30-minute snooze. It felt lovely!

Liz received a couple of calls about the brevet during the day. Ray Skinner called to say he had suffered a broken seatpost and he would not be finishing the ride. Chuck and Crista checked in to say that they had broken off early to go toward Raphine. As Liz prepared dinner (I was so spoiled by Liz’s yummy cooking!!) we got a call from Mr. Ed Felker. Ed reported that the tailwind was helping people along, but that some people had experienced “food issues.” These included two of my least favorite brevet words, “throwing up,” but at least they were not followed by two of my other least favorite words, “turkey sandwiches,” ha ha!

I awoke early the next morning to get ready for the final brevet check-in. I was excited to see the first riders arrive, since when I
ride the brevets I never see them! At 7:30 Clint Provenza and Bob Casciato rolled in. Hi guys! Clint showed Bob my latest class
textbook, Randonneuring Without Easy Answers. (It is actually titled Leadership Without Easy Answers, but I altered the title in a moment of academic procrastination. In fact, the leadership concepts are remarkably interchangeable with randonneuring.) Randonneurs are funny. Clint rode 375 miles, and the first thing he did after he checked in was show Bob my book, just in case Bob wanted to do a bit of reading now that he was done riding!

Clint said he had not planned to ride through so he ended up borrowing a base layer from Lynn Kristianson at the Churchville control for his night ride. Both Bob and Clint looked good, although Clint did not shed any tears about not having to get back on the saddle for a while. We talked a little bit about the benefits of Lantiseptic versus Chamois Butter. Then Clint trotted off for a shower.

Bob came back looking for his drop bag, but I told him that he had ridden so fast he had outrun the drop bag return. He said that we could mail it back to him later, but to make sure that we marked it “Toxic Waste,” so he could be forewarned of its contents. He then took off with his nephew. Apparently Bob had a party to attend, where he was also giving a speech.

All this talk with Bob and Clint made me drowsy so after they left I slept for an hour. Around 11:50 a.m., Bob Sheldon and Mike Martin arrived after riding all night. They were very yin and yang in their arrival temperaments. Bob was incredibly talkative and exuberant, while Mike seemed content to speak little and rest his body in the control room. Soon after, Bob took off for a party he had scheduled to attend.

Twenty-five minutes later, three more members of the Severna Park contingent rolled in — Chip Adams, Glenn Dance, and Jeff Erickson. These were the first riders who had stopped for sleep, and it showed on their faces. They looked ready to get in another 375 miles!

Things were getting exciting in the control room! I waited expectantly by the door of the control room for more riders. I wondered if this feeling was like the old days of the Pony Express. Any minute now, any minute now, any… minute!

People started arriving in earnest around 2:30 p.m. While the riders arrived, Liz and Chuck grilled burgers, and Lisa helped with putting out food. Bill Beck and Greg Conderacci rolled in, and then Ed Felker showed up. Yahoo! Ed seemed to do pretty well without his stoker!

I began feeling sad that no left-handed randonneurs had come in. I recalled Matt Settle informing me that the number of left-handed randonneurs is rather high compared to the general population, but where were they? I think Curtis Palmer was the first leftie to finish, but my recall is now sketchy. Soon after him, though, several of my left-handed brethren began to arrive.

I loved signing people in, but it would have been nice if all riders could have arrived before noon because I had to keep doing math to figure out the military time for arrivals :-). As people showed up, I also tracked who wanted medals, and then had to hit everybody up for ten bucks. All rewards come at a price in randonneuring! But as I heard someone say once, the price per mile is ultimately a great bargain, especially on the long brevets!

Tom O’Neil arrived, looking glad to be off the bike. I admired his determination, as I heard he had experienced some rough moments on the brevet. Somehow he had kept on riding, though!

I cannot remember the order, but Paul Donaldson, Chris Mento, and Carol Bell arrived, looking fit and happy. Andréa Matney, Maile Neel, Jim Leavitt, Randy Mouri, Joe Brown, Ron Tosh, Jeff Magnuson, Roger Hillas, Max Prola, Lowell Grubbs, Lynn Ho, Steve Ashurst, Mary Crawley, Kelly Smith, and Matt Settle, among other riders, began to flow on in. Super Randonneurs were all around me.

Dave and Linda Gaudette showed up. Somehow, Linda got it in her head that I had played some role in convincing her that becoming a Super Randonneur was a good idea, but I told her she needed to redirect her energies toward Mr. Dave Gaudette about that!

Somewhere in the day, Rick Rosa arrived, and I must have had randonneuring on the brain because I was sure his name was Rick RUSA. Branson Kimball put in his final control appearance. Ben Bassett showed up around 5:30, and then said that he also was required to be in attendance at a party so he had to fly off. What’s up with all these parties? Bob Casciato, Bob Sheldon, and Ben Bassett… the randonneurs apparently have a busy dance card.

Nick Bull and George Winkert rode in, looking happy and ready to ride another 50 miles. We talked in the control room about which randonneurs had ridden through… Bob Casciato, Clint Provenza, Bob Sheldon, Paul Pavlides, Paul Donaldson, Matt Settle, and Bill Arcieri. Wow. I could not imagine making it through with no sleep. I required two naps during the course of the brevet, in addition to a full night’s sleep, in order to accomplish my volunteer responsibilities :-).

We celebrated Matt Settle’s birthday with a homemade cake Liz had baked, and yummy ice cream. Kelly Smith remarked that he thought Gatorade-flavored ice cream with chunks of Clif bar in it would make a perfect randonneur ice cream treat.

Ed later informed me that Kelly had experienced brevet loopiness as the ride wore on, and had actually taken to quoting from Shrek, fervently stating, “I’m a donkey on the edge!” at around mile 300. Ed and I had some good laughs about that the Monday after the ride.

After a little more time passed, we spied another rider arriving. Hey Bike Rider! It was Bill Arcieri. I was full of emotion watching Bill’s successful finish because he had showed such determination and diligence in completing the 2007 brevet series. It was thrilling to see it all come together for Bill on this 600K. When I asked Bill if he wanted a medal, his reply was an adamant “Yes!” Ok, that’s ten dollars, Bill, ha ha!

Soon after, Michael Rowny arrived, looking glad to be done. The first words I heard come out of Michael’s mouth were “Oh, Mama, can this really be the end, to be stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again.” Bob Dylan, he informed me. I thought perhaps a more appropriate version of the chorus might be “Oh, Mama, can this really be the end, to be stuck inside this 600K with the Middletown blues again.” Well done, Michael Rowny, Super Randonneur!

Later, I heard Michael say he might be need to stay the week at the Super 8 before he would be sufficiently recovered to drive back to DC. Yes, this was one challenging brevet.

The sun started to wane and we glimpsed two more riders approaching. In triumphant spirits, Alex Sanchez and Russ Morris arrived! I complimented Russ on his bike setup, saying that his cotton bar tape secured with twine was definitely Grant Peterson-approved. He agreed, and then commented that for the next brevet he was not going to use clear strapping tape to secure his GPS. It had proven a little too unstable. Instead, he was going to invest in an actual GPS mount. Um. Ok!

As Alex and he discussed their brevet adventure, Russ also said that his overnight slumber in his sleeping bag off in the weeds
somewhere on the route was more comfortable than any mattress. I see a bright future of randonneuring for Russ!

A few minutes later, the lanterne rouge arrived– Doug Kirby, from North Carolina. Doug is now going to Paris for his sixth PBP. How cool! We could not have planned a more perfect finale to the DC Randonneurs 2007 brevet series.

I was so glad I volunteered. Since I spent my first two years of brevets as a participant, it was fun to have a different perspective of the rides. Now I know that the morning food does not magically appear, the homoligization (or whatever that crazy word is) of control cards has to be managed by someone, and the final control room does not clean tself.

Also, by not having the pressure of actually completing the brevet, I was able to step back and observe how the undertaking of the longer brevets affects riders. Early morning starts, sleep deprivation, never-ending tinkering and readying of the bicycle, and the mental preparation for the brevet journey are a recipe for a high voltage brevet atmosphere. (No wonder it has felt like Ed and I are little ions that keep crashing into each other the evening before brevet starts!)

I feel so fortunate to have played a small role in the 2007 Middletown 600K brevet, and to have shared in all the riders’ accomplishments.

Thanks, Bike Riders!!! See you on the road!


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